When the discriminated discriminate


I just read this piece from Thought Catalogue, “The Queer Community has to Stop Being Transphobic” and I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments of the author.

I used to be a transphobic gay man.
….
“I know I’m supposed to get it because I’m gay,” I said, “but I just don’t understand the whole trans* thing at all. It makes me feel so weird.”

That’s exactly how I felt. You would think that being gay would make it easier to understand what being trans is like, but on the contrary, I think it made it harder.

I would think to myself, yeah, I can totally understand not wanting to follow these stupid gender norms that society sticks by. I can understand being a girl and preferring to do guy things, preferring to wear guys clothes. I can even relate to the feeling of wanting to be a guy, or be more guy-like in appearance. Yet it’s because I could identify with all that so closely, I couldn’t understand why they needed to go one more step to actually become the other gender.

I mean, I would ideally prefer it too, if I were taller, more muscular, more masculine… but I can accept that this is how I was born, this is my body. I can learn to accept my body for its good points and ‘bad’ points, why can’t they? Don’t they realize that being a girl doesn’t mean you need to follow society’s stupid rules for girls? You can still wear pants, you can still do whatever you want to do. Why should the physical body matter so much? 

Why should it matter so much indeed.
To throw the question back at myself: why should clothes matter so much? Surely clothes matter even less than your body. Surely a colour would matter less. Surely… all these little stereotypically girl activities and accessories… what’s the big deal? Why can’t you just accept them? They are just things.

And yet I would feel so uncomfortable and out of place in a dress. Like a fish out of water. I wouldn’t feel like myself. Probably as uncomfortable as an average guy would be, if he were forced to wear a dress. Okay, admittedly slightly less since I’ve inevitably been ‘forced’ to wear dresses in my life time.

The other day I watched ‘These Ears Have Walls 2‘. It follows three separate story lines about lesbian couples, in different time periods, all set in the same house.

The first story was thoroughly depressing and the last story was positively uplifting and happifying (helllo Ellen Degeneres and Sharon Stone!). It’s really heartening to see just how far we’ve come and how different things are (in some places), from 1961 to 2001. But it was the second story, set in 1972, that was the most intriguing and thought provoking to me.

(spoilers!)

The story focusses on Linda, a young student who shares the house with a few friends, all lesbians. They are also part of a feminist group, but are being kicked out as the group doesn’t want to be associated with or thought of by others as a ‘lesbian group’ and want to be taken seriously as feminist.

The interesting tension comes when the friends go to a dyke bar and are disappointed and disapproving of how the lesbians in the bar fulfill traditional butch and femme roles. Linda, however, is charmed by and falls for Amy, a butch in a shirt and tie who rides a motorbike. Despite Linda’s efforts to get her friends to be accepting and open, they continually make fun of Amy.

It feels so ironic to me when people turn into exactly what they are fighting against. Like anti-gay religious people claiming that they are all about love, acceptance, forgiveness. This case is worse than that though; you’re clearly part of the same outcasted group, and yet you still discriminated against each other?

It reminds of that that scene from the L Word when the main L Word characters make fun of Moria for being ‘butch’ and for categorizing lesbians into those traditional roles. As though that’s something backward and old fashioned, something to be laughed at. Shouldn’t being part of the same out-casted group be enough to make you realize that how you are treating them is exactly the way you don’t want others treating you?

Yet I can still see both sides of the story. The girls dislike Amy because they see her, and  butch lesbians, as part of the problem. Here they are fighting for equal rights for women, for girl power and the empowerment of all things feminine. And here there are these females who are, bizarrely and counter-productively apparently trying to be men. Why buy into the idea that a suit and tie and masculinity means power, means control? Why think that you have to be the ‘male’ in the relationship and buy the drinks and make the moves and buy the flowers? All that chauvinism is exactly what they’re fighting against and they don’t want people from their own ‘ranks’ undermining their position.

On the other hand, Amy is just like them– she knows who she is and she accepts herself and will not lie or back down about who she is, even if she knows that it will make life difficult for her. She stands up for her own truth, just as they stand up for theirs.

The ugliest moment was when the girls made fun of her to her face, tried to mess up her neatly gelled back hair, and forced her to put on a girly top. Trying to ‘free’ her from her ‘self imposed’ restrictive masculine persona when in fact what they were doing were forcing Amy into their own box.

In another scene from the L word, Max (formerly Moria) tells Jenny, “If you think men are the enemy, then you and I have a problem.” Yes, men, or masculinity, aren’t the enemy, even for feminist. The enemy is bigotry, the enemy is oppression. The enemy is forcing your truths down someone else’s throat, forcing other people into your boxes, because you are more comfortable with that.

The truth always looks slightly different from different angles.

For me, trans* is difficult to understand because, my biological sex doesn’t matter as much. It’s not a core part of my identity– I honestly think that I would feel as comfortable in a male body as I do in my female body. To me, the expression of my gender and the expression of my sexual orientation is much more important than my biological sex. I am all for blurring the gender lines and androgyny.

I dare say this wouldn’t be the case for most people– if you find the thought of having the body of a member of the opposite sex weird and disturbing, then I dare say you can understanding how a trans person feels even more than I do. And if I wanted to understand, I can easily translate their experience into something I can relate to.

As humans, we are so incredibly diverse and the way we experience things can be so different. It can be such a leap to try and understand something that is so foreign to you it have never even occurred to you and you don’t know how to even start thinking about it. Yet, underneath all that, I really believe that all of our fundamental experiences are exactly the same. We are all human. It just takes you to make the effort to listen with openness and translate someone else’s problem into something you can relate to.

We are all human.

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Annoyance


When is annoyance at another individual justified?
By justified I don’t just mean that there ‘are good reasons’ for your annoyance, but ‘making it acceptable for you to be annoyed at another person‘. That is, I can allow myself to feel annoyed without trying to to eliminate those feelings, without feeling like I should try to be nicer and more understanding.

I suppose it’s entirely based on how high a standard you set for yourself?

Everything he says just seems to rub me the wrong way. And it feels like he’s doing it on purpose– being vague and deliberately difficult to understand and arrogant. Like he knows better than you. And if you can’t keep up with him, too bad. He’s not really interested in discussion anyways, just in shooting down other people’s opinions.

But I can’t tell if this is just me being biased. Or that’s just the way he expresses himself, he’s not really being arrogant. Maybe if he were a closer friend of mine maybe I’d just think, ‘Oh, that’s just the way he is. He doesn’t mean it that way.’ and take no offence. Maybe i’m just projecting a whole bunch of things that aren’t really there.

Maybe in being so quick to judge and blame and take offence, I’m the one who is being arrogant…

When in doubt, take a step back and err on the side of niceness. 

The Righteous Mind; Overcoming blind intuition


Why Won’t The Listen? ‘The Righteous Mind’ by Johnathan Haidt

Great article and sounds like a great book!

Some quotes from the article, and some of my thoughts.

people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational.

Which is why it takes effort: we need to be constantly on our guard to make sure we’re not committing logical fallacies, because we are prone to doing so! But the first step is being self-aware, the first step is ACKNOWLEDGING that we’re prone to… all these things the article mentions. Only then you can start to evaluate yourself. Think about your own thinking, behaviours, beliefs.

“We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided.”

Because in a historical context, if we were to always logically and painstakingly weigh all the pros and cons before acting, we’d be dead. We’ve evolved to make quick, snappy judgements. So again, once we’re aware of this we can guard against it, now that we have the luxury of time and knowledge to weigh the pros and cons properly.

Evolution pushes us to give us what works in a given environment. It doesn’t push to give us the truth or the most factually accurate answers. Just what works (at that time).

“The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. Haidt shows, for example, how subjects relentlessly marshal arguments for the incest taboo, no matter how thoroughly an interrogator demolishes these arguments.

To explain this persistence, Haidt invokes an evolutionary hypothesis: We compete for social status, and the key advantage in this struggle is the ability to influence others. Reason, in this view, evolved to help us spin, not to help us learn. So if you want to change people’s minds, Haidt concludes, don’t appeal to their reason. Appeal to reason’s boss: the underlying moral intuitions whose conclusions reason defends.”

Is your belief holding up your reasons? Or are your reasons holding up your belief?

Admittedly, because no one is a blank canvas, it’s pretty difficult to erase all beliefs and start with reasons (as decartes tried to do), from the ground up. No assumptions. Not very possible in the practical sense. So probably, a compromise: acknowledge that most of the time it’s your belief propping up your reasons. So be on the look out for beliefs that keep having the reason knocked out (and keep scrambling for new ones) yet continues to float in your psyche without reasons. Maybe for those you should make a closer inspection and knock away all assumptions and start from ground up. See what you get.

“Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.

This reminds me of the article about more education and intelligence making people, ironically, more set in their (wrong) views. Honestly? I’m in constant fear that I’m making this mistake. That I’m being as hypocritical and close-minded as the people I charge with being hypocritical and close minded.

“In his view, for instance, liberals can teach conservatives to recognize and constrain predation by entrenched interests. Haidt believes in the power of reason, but the reasoning has to be interactive. It has to be other people’s reason engaging yours. We’re lousy at challenging our own beliefs, but we’re good at challenging each other’s.

I totally agree with this. While I like to hope that I read all decent, well thought out articles indiscriminately, the truth is obvious that most of the time, I will gravitate towards articles that share my views. The chances of me getting to a well thought out article that challenges my view is slim– not because they don’t exist, but because my tolerance for not-well-thought-out articles that support my view is much higher than for articles that don’t support my view. Meaning I would wade through several mediocre or lousy articles if they share my view to get to that one good one, but I probably wouldn’t do the same for an opposing view.

If 90% of the view points I hear are similar to my own, that means my views are not only not being challenged, they’re being affirmed. And that produces a subconscious effect whether I like it or not. So to friends who don’t share my views… please help me by challenging my beliefs.

“First, we need to help citizens develop sympathetic relationships so that they seek to understand one another instead of using reason to parry opposing views. Second, we need to create time for contemplation. Research shows that two minutes of reflection on a good argument can change a person’s mind. “

To truly want to understand an opposing view point– that’s really difficult. You may say, “I want to understand why you think that.” but at the back of your mind, a voice adds, “so I can correct your mistake/so I can show you why I’m right.” Even if you’re not interested in correcting others… there’ll still be a small voice going, “… but I know I’m right.”

It’s not too difficult to admit that you can be wrong– after all, we know our limits; we’re only human. But to go from that abstraction to being able to admit that you may be wrong about a specific belief of yours– that’s harder. If you’re sure of that belief– you think it’s something you know— it’s pretty difficult to get rid of that voice at the back of your head reminding you that you ‘know’ it. And if you can’t let go of that, it would be pretty difficult to ever be able to see how someone ‘knows’ something that is the opposite of what you ‘know’. You can’t truly see through someone else’s eyes, can’t truly walk in their shoes, if you’re standing firmly in your own shoes, in your own skin. You’d still be postulating and projecting what you think they see from over there, while you’re over here.

I know I’ve moved away from truly wanting to understand and closer to just wanting to defend my own views. Mainly because i got too frustrated and impatient. Hopefully I can move myself back to that point.

Keep reminding myself of this lesson: You have nothing to lose.
If your view is right, you have nothing to lose by gaining a deeper understanding of why other people don’t think so.
If your view is wrong, you have everything to gain by being able to correct your view.
So don’t hold back.

If someone holds a different view from you, the best testimony to your view is if you can understand 100% why they think that, and be able to point out were they ‘went wrong’. Rather than dismissing it as ‘they’re just deluded/not being honest with themselves/ignorant.’ They certainly don’t think that. Which means you’re still not thinking what they’re thinking. And therefore not fully understanding why they think it.

” Evolution itself has evolved: as humans became increasingly social, the struggle for survival, mating and progeny depended less on physical abilities and more on social abilities. In this way, a faculty produced by evolution — sociality — became the new engine of evolution. Why can’t reason do the same thing? Why can’t it emerge from its evolutionary origins as a spin doctor to become the new medium in which humans compete, cooperate and advance the fitness of their communities? Isn’t that what we see all around us? Look at the global spread of media, debate and democracy.”

What makes a friendship?


What makes a friendship?

I’ve often asked myself that question, and, in my head, stared quizzically at my friends, trying to figure out the common denominator between them, why they are my friends.

Do you choose your friends? I certainly don’t, not to a large extent anyway. I tend to be very passive in the way I lead my life, and pretty shy and anti-social in the way I interact with people. I’m never the one to first approach someone else.

How did my friends become my friends? I don’t really know. I guess it tends to be a mixture of being brought together by circumstance and then staying together, becoming friends due to the friendliness of one or both parties. Which is then cemented first by the decisions to make the effort, to keep in touch, and later by the trust and understanding that time helps build.

So what makes a friendship, or any kind of relationship? What’s the crucial ingredient, what’s important to you?

Do your friends (or girlfriend or boyfriend or sister or brother) have to share your values, your ideals, your political or religious beliefs?
Do your friends (or girlfriend or boyfriend or mother or father) have to have the same tastes in music, same tastes in movies, same tastes in books, same tastes in food?
Do they have to enjoy singing, if you love to sing? running, if you love to run? gaming, if you love to game? playing basketball, if you love basketball? rock climbing, if you love rock climbing? photography, if you love photography? anime, if you love anime? being outdoors, if you enjoy being outdoors?
Do they have to spend a certain amount of time with you to qualify? Chat with you on the phone several times a week? Bug each other online every other day? Hang out every week or so?
Or do they have to meet certain criteria you’ve set down for whom you want to be friends with, or whom you want has a romantic partner? Does he need to own a car? Buy you flowers? Call you every night? Be of a certain social status (would you be friends with the weirdos and the outcasts?) Would you be friends with someone much richer, or much poorer than you? someone of a different race, perhaps, or different culture? Do they need to fit your stereotype of what a boyfriend or a friend should be?

I suppose that most of the time you would share some of these, many of these, with your friends. After all, it’s probably a common interest or activity that brought you together in the first place. And if two people were really completely different as night and day with no common ground, it would be difficult to carry a conversation, much less sustain a friendship.

And yet I dare say that NONE of that matters at all, not really. None of it is what makes the friendship, none of it is what defines the friendship and keep it going.

I have friends whom I hardly ever see, hardly ever speak to, because of our busy schedules and because we’re only in the same country once or twice a year. Friends who differ completely from me in their ideological beliefs, their way of doing things. Friends who don’t enjoy the same activities I enjoy, whose favourite activities I have no interest in. It may even be hard for me to explain what we actually do or talk about when we get together.

But it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that when we do meet, the meeting is the point, not the activity. When we do meet, we spend the time enjoying each others’ company. Certain people you just click with instantly, finding yourselves on the same wavelength. When we do meet, we feel at ease, relaxed and happy. Conversation flows easily, and even if it doesn’t, that’s fine and we enjoy comfortable silences. We trust each other enough to be ourselves, to speak of the things on our minds and in our hearts, unafraid of rejection or judgement. We understand each other with just a look or brief comment, but we accept and support even when we don’t fully understand. We love each other enough to care, enough to try; enough to make the commitment to always be there.

That’s what matters to me; that’s what relationships are made of. Every other obstacle is secondary, every other problem is just a stepping stone to be overcome. Because when you have that, nothing can touch it and nothing can replace it.

Circumstance allows your paths to cross. From there, it starts with a feeling, maybe. A spark, or some kind of comfortable compatibility where you find each other pleasant enough to be around. Time builds on that and as you get to know each other better, trust, understanding and love grows. Cement that with the active, constant decision to commitment from both parties and you’re good for life.

Compatibility. Love. Trust. Understanding. Acceptance. And mutual commitment.

When you have something like that in your life, where things have gone more than right at every step and stage, when every component is strong… cherish it. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t throw it away. It’s not that easy to come by.